Questions Linger For Canadian Gaming Expansion Beyond Ontario, Alberta

July 3, 2024
With one province embracing a privatized online gaming model, and another soon to follow, the question for many becomes if and when the rest of Canada will follow suit.

With one province embracing a privatized online gaming model, and another soon to follow, the question for many becomes if and when the rest of Canada will follow suit.

On the heels of Ontario’s successful launch, and Alberta looking to launch its own model in the coming months, lobbying efforts continue in the province in hopes of further gaming expansion throughout the country.

The two biggest prizes left for gaming operators are Quebec, home to more than 8.5m people, and British Columbia, with a population of just over 5m.

“There are pressure groups within a number of other provinces, Quebec and in Western Canada that are trying to form coalitions and put pressure on the government to try to make them follow the Ontario model, or at least consider it,” said Kevin Weber, a partner at Dickinson Wright law firm.

However, those efforts have not yielded much success to date.

“At present, I don’t know how much headway they’re making,” Weber said. “They’ve been keeping channels open within the [Quebec] government, maintaining points of contact, but there’s no indication that there’s any real ear for it.”

The British Columbia Lottery Corporation’s (BCLC) PlayNow app is one of the most successful in the country, to the point that neighboring provinces Saskatchewan and Manitoba have contracted to use the platform.

In addition, BCLC has not been afraid to protect its turf.

“BCLC has an incredibly strong brand in the province, and British Columbia generally has taken I think, the most aggressive approach in Canada to unregulated operators from a sponsorship perspective and they've been aggressive not wanting to be have sponsorships alongside dotnet or unregulated operators,” said Jack Tadman of GME Law.

That approach could complicate any future efforts to follow an Ontario model, where unregulated operators were permitted to become regulated operators without any stoppage of service in the early months of the province’s launch.

Ron Segev, founder of Segev LLP law firm, referenced ads that BCLC has run in the province decrying unregulated operators with a fictional “Chip” character who runs an unregulated sportsbook flaunting his wealth while thanking players for using his offering instead of PlayNow.

“It brings up the question, if we're expecting BC to bring in a regulated market one day, that means one day the BC government has to turn around and say Chip’s cool now, guys, Chip wasn't stealing your money, no, no, no, we want Chip to enter our market,” Weber added. “That's the problem with the attitude they're taking, it's actually almost setting up the stumbling blocks to doing anything constructive in the future.”

One potential approach would be a prohibited bad actor list of operators who would be prohibited from a regulated British Columbian market, but Segev said the success of the Ontario market could make that a challenge.

“Ontario is seen as a success, and so the sort of unfettered open market is seen as a success,” Segev said. “So I don't know that a bad actor list would necessarily get a lot of traction, although we know that BC is not necessarily 100 percent commercial-minded, we see that, so they could make decisions that are not 100 percent commercially minded.

“I think what's interesting is the Ontario numbers that came out showed that [Ontario Lottery and Gaming] actually grew as an operator under this new regime, so if you were going to lobby BCLC to be open minded to this, we can say this is a growth opportunity to have all of these now gray market operators advertising openly, encouraging British Columbians to go bet."


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